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Neither complacency nor panic—yet
Richard John Neuhaus gets impatient
Clearing our minds of cant, which Dr. Johnson said is the first step toward understanding, was the great contribution of Benedict XVI in his Regensburg lecture of September 12. In the November issue of First Things, which will be out mid-October, I explain why his lecture may be referred to, five or twenty years from now, as “The Regensburg Moment,” meaning a moment of truth preparing us for the long struggle ahead.
Of course, not everybody is convinced about the nature of the threat. We still have with us people like John Esposito of Georgetown and the bestselling Karen Armstrong assuring us that Islam is a religion of peace. “Why can’t we all just get along?” as Rodney King plaintively asked, with the answer implied, and frequently made explicit, that we could all get along just fine if only “we,” meaning mainly we Americans, were not so terribly unpleasant to the people who are trying to kill us.
On the wishful-thinking side of these discussions is also John Tierney of the New York Times. His September 9 column (Times Select) touts a new book by John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State. The book is Overblown, referring to the threat posed by the Jihadists. Tierney writes that Mueller calculates that “the odds of an American being killed by international terrorism are about one in 80,000. And even if there were attacks on the scale of September 11 every three months for the next five years, the odds for any individual dying would be one in 5,000.”
Oh well, that’s all right then. In a city of 50,000, that’s only ten people killed. Or in New York City, about 1,600 killed. One is reminded of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?” Hundreds or thousands of dead from terrorism cannot, contra Mueller, Tierney, et al., be compared to the thousands killed in automobile accidents, which involves a familiar calculation of risks without lethal intent.
Had the Jihadists recently arrested in Britain gotten away with their plan of blowing up ten airliners over the Atlantic, it is likely that international travel would have come to a screeching halt, at least for a time, with inestimable economic and other consequences. Were a dirty bomb exploded in Times Square—and the relevant experts claim they know that Jihadists are working on such measures—a hundred thousand or more would die immediately, with untold effects upon the lives of all Americans and the rest of the world.
This is not a time for either complacency or panic. I can be as caustic as the next guy about some of the apparently silly measures imposed by airport security checks. (This week on a flight to Birmingham, Alabama, I was deprived of my shaving cream.) But anybody who has read, for instance, The Looming Tower will appreciate the hundreds of police and intelligence agents who are working, however fumblingly, to track and contain deadly threats. Rejecting both complacency and panic, we do well to brace ourselves for a future of very real danger, and to be grateful also for the lucidity and courage of people such as Benedict XVI who recall us to truths worth defending, even as they call upon the Muslim world to effectively propose a future that is not dominated by the dark night of Jihadism.
The rest is here.